How many times have you encountered the clichéd anecdote of the entrepreneur who grew their multi-million dollar business empire with no college degree to their name?
Just by searching “successful entrepreneurs” on Google, you are flooded with articles championing those who made their fortune despite a lack of higher education. Take the late Steve Jobs for example, co-founder of the Silicon Valley tech giant Apple. Worth a massive $11 billion at the time of his death, Jobs is an ideal candidate for the ‘underdog story’ having begun his tech venture in his parents’ garage after dropping out of college in his first semester.
But not all share this path-to-success. Many well-known tech start-ups have been founded by individuals who have obtained a college degree. Here is a list of 7 of the most successful of them and the top entrepreneur schools they attended.
1. Bobby Murphy (co-founder of Snapchat)
Bobby Murphy graduated from Stanford University in 2010 with a major in mathematical and computational science. While at college, he co-founded the popular online mobile app Snapchat, a social sharing platform where users can send and receive ephemeral photos and videos to their friends. Having a daily usership of 150 million people, Snapchat was valued at a massive $18 billion in May 2016.
2. Kevin Systrom (co-founder of Instagram)
Co-founder of Instagram, an online mobile photo and video sharing platform, Systrom graduated from Stanford University in 2006 with a major in management science and engineering. Since launching in 2010, Instagram now has over 500 million active users, and was purchased by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion.
3. Weili Dai (co-founder of Marvell Technology Group)
University of California, Berkeley
Before launching Marvell Technology Group in 1995, Weili Dai attended the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated with a major in computer science. Marvell Technology Group produce storage, communications and consumer semiconductor products including Marvell Mobile Hotspot, an in-car wifi connectivity system used in the Audi R8. Allegedly being the only woman in history to have started an American semiconductor company, Dai is worth an estimated $570 million.
4. Reed Hastings (co-founder of Netflix)
Bowdoin College & Stanford University
Reed Hastings graduated with a major in mathematics from Bowdoin College before obtaining a masters in artificial intelligence from Stanford University. In 1997, Hastings founded Netflix. Originally an online streaming platform for TV series and films, Netflix has now expanded into producing its own original content with popular series such as Orange is the New Black and Making a Murderer. With 86 million subscribers across more than 190 countries, it is no surprise that Hastings is enjoying a cool $1.51 billion fortune.
5. Elon Musk (co-founder of Paypal, Tesla and SolarCity, and founder of SpaceX)
University of Pennsylvania
Elon Musk obtained a major in both physics and economics from the University of Pennsylvania, before founding the most diverse collection of companies on this list including Tesla, an energy storage business and electric automobile manufacturer, and SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturer. Currently ranked the 83rd richest person in the world, Musk enjoys an estimated net worth of $11.2 billion.
6. Evan Sharp (co-founder of Pinterest)
University of Chicago & Columbia University
Co-founder of San Francisco-based website Pinterest, Sharp attended the University of Chicago where he graduated with a major in history, before going on to study architecture at Columbia University. Pinterest, a popular online visual bookmarking tool with over 100 million monthly active users, allows individuals to upload, manage and save media content through collections known as pinboards. Sharp currently has an estimated net worth of $1.05 billion.
7. Larry Page (co-founder of Google)
University of Michigan & Stanford University
No list would be complete without the mention of this guy. Larry Page attended the University of Michigan where he graduated with a major in computer engineering before obtaining a masters in computer science from Stanford University. While at Stanford, the tech mogul founded Google in 1996. Still the most-used online search engine worldwide, Google processes on average 3.5 billion searches per day, as well as offering additional products such as Google+ (a social networking platform), and Google Drive (a cloud storage service). Page tops this list for the highest estimated net worth, having a huge $38.3 billion to his name.
Given the achievement of these entrepreneurs, why is it that their stories are rarely discussed? Maybe because stories like that of Steve Jobs demonstrate that getting a degree isn’t necessary to start a successful company. However there is no doubt that college can provide individuals with an opportunity to develop key skills that are beneficial to founding and running a business, such as finance, management and IT.
What's the lesson?
The proliferation of start-ups in recent years has even led to the education system broadening their entrepreneurship offerings. Take Babson College for example. Ranked first by The Princeton Review for the best undergraduate programs for entrepreneurship in 2017, its entrepreneurship center currently offers undergraduates 25 entrepreneurial-related courses. The benefits of these courses are clear when you look at the figures: a huge 565 companies have been founded by its graduates over the last 10 years. But Babson College is not alone. Many colleges across the US have begun to offer an increasing number of specialist entrepreneurial degrees.
It is important to remember however, that even non-business-related majors such as psychology and maths can have relevance to the life and work of a business owner, by providing a well-rounded set of skills that will enable them to compete in the cut-throat world of business.
It is likely that an increasing proportion of aspiring entrepreneurs will be ever-more attracted to a college education owing to the greater opportunities for support that many are providing for start-up ventures. This may be particularly true for those entering tech, where advanced degrees could give them a unique edge.